Judge Dee and his entourage, seeking refuge from a mountain storm, become trapped in a Taoist monastery, where the Abbott Jade mysteriously dies after delivering an ecstatic sermon. The monks call it a supernatural experience, but the judge calls it murder. Recalling the allegedly accidental deaths of three young women in the same monastery, Judge Dee seeks clues in the eyes of a cat to solve cases of impersonation and murder. A painting by one of the victims reveals the truth about the killings, propelling the judge on a quest for justice and revenge.
"Entertaining, instructive, and impressive."—Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Robert van Gulik (1910–67) was a Dutch diplomat and an authority on Chinese history and culture. His many works include sixteen Judge Dee mysteries, a study of the gibbon in China, and two books on the Chinese lute.
Read an Excerpt
The Haunted Monastery
A Judge Dee Mystery
By Robert van Gulik
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1961 Robert van Gulik
All rights reserved.
The two men sitting close together in the secluded room, up in the tower of the old monastery, listened for a while silently to the roar of the storm that was raging among the dark mountains outside. Violent gusts of wind were tearing at the tower, the cold draught penetrated even the solid wooden shutters.
One of the men looked uneasily at the flickering flame of the single candle that cast their two weirdly distorted shadows on the plaster wall. He asked again in a tired voice:
'Why do you insist on doing it tonight?'
'Because I choose to!' the second replied placidly. 'Don't you think that today's feast is a most appropriate occasion?'
'With all those people about here?' the first asked dubiously
'You are not afraid, are you?' his companion asked with a sneer. 'You weren't afraid on that former occasion, remember?'
The other made no reply. Thunder rumbled in the distant mountains. Then there came a torrential downpour. The rain clattered against the shutters with a rattle as of hailstones. Suddenly he said:
'No, I am not afraid. But I repeat that the face of the morose fellow looks familiar to me. It worries me that I can't remember when or where I ...'
'You distress me!' the man opposite him interrupted with mock politeness.
The first frowned, then resumed:
'I wish you wouldn't kill her, this time. People might remember, and start wondering why three ...'
'It all depends on her herself, doesn't it?' His thin lips curved in a cruel smile. Rising abruptly, he added: 'Let's go back, they'll notice our absence in the hall below. We must never forget to act our parts, my friend!'
The other got up also. He muttered something but his words were drowned in another roll of thunder. It seemed very near, this time.CHAPTER 2
Farther down in the mountains on the southern border of Hanyuan, that thunderclap made Judge Dee lift his head in the pouring rain and anxiously inspect the dark, windswept sky. He pressed himself close to the side of the high tilt-cart, drawn up under the cliff that overhung the mountain road. Wiping the rain from his eyes he said to the two coachmen who stood before him huddled in their straw rain-cloaks:
'Since we can't go on to Han-yuan this evening, we'd better pass the night right here in our cart. You could fetch some rice for our evening meal from a farm in the neighbourhood, I suppose?'
The elder coachman pulled the piece of oil-cloth closer to his head, the ends were flapping in the strong wind. He said:
'It isn't safe to stay here, sir! I know these autumn storms in the mountains, it's only just beginning! Soon there'll be a real gale. It might blow our cart over into the ravine on the other side of the road.'
'We are high up in the mountains,' the other coachman added. 'There is not a hut or farm for miles around, there's only the old monastery up there. But of course you wouldn't like to ...'
A flash of lightning lit up the wild mountain scene. For one brief moment Judge Dee saw the high, scraggy mountains that loomed on all sides, and the red mass of the old monastery, towering on the slope above them, on the other side of the ravine. There was a deafening clap of thunder, and all was dark again.
The judge hesitated. He pushed his long black beard farther into the fold of his drenched travelling-cloak. Then he made a decision.
'You two run up to the monastery,'he said curtly, 'and tell them that the magistrate of this district is here and wants to stay overnight. Let them send down a dozen lay brothers with closed litters, to carry my womenfolk and luggage up there.' The elder coachman wanted to say something, but Judge Dee barked: 'Get going!'
The man shrugged his shoulders resignedly. They set off at a trot, their storm lanterns of oiled paper were two dancing spots of light in the dark.
Judge Dee felt his way along the tilt-cart till he found the stepladder. He climbed inside and quickly closed the canvas flap behind him. His three wives were sitting on the bedrolls, their padded travelling-cloaks drawn close to their bodies. In the back of the cart the maids cowered among the bags and boxes. Their faces white with fear, they pressed close to each other at each peal of thunder. It was dry inside, but the cold wind blew right through the thick canvas of the hood.
As the judge sat down on a clothes box his First Lady said: 'You shouldn't have gone outside! You are wet through and through!'
'I tried to help Tao Gan and the coachmen to fix that broken axle,' he said with a wan smile, but it's no use, it'll have to be replaced. Anyway, the horses are tired and the storm is only beginning. We'll stay the night in the Morning Cloud Monastery, that's the only inhabited place in this neighbourhood.'
'Do you mean that huge red building with the green-tiled roofs we saw high up on the mountain slope, when we passed here two weeks ago?' his second wife asked.
The judge nodded.
'You won't be too uncomfortable there,' he said. 'It's the largest Taoist monastery in the entire province, and many people visit it during the religious feasts. I am sure they'll have good guest quarters.'
He took the towel his third wife gave him and tried to rub his beard and whiskers dry.
'We'll manage all right!' his First Lady resumed. 'During our holiday in the capital we were so spoilt in your uncle's mansion that a little hardship won't matter! And it'll be interesting to see what that old monastery looks like inside!'
'Perhaps there are spooks!' his Third Lady said with a smile. She moved her shapely shoulders in an exaggerated shudder.
Judge Dee knitted his thick eyebrows.
'There isn't much to see,' he said slowly. 'It's just an old monastery. We'll have the evening meal in our room and go to bed early. If we leave tomorrow morning at dawn, as soon as the grooms of the monastery have replaced the axle, we'll be back in Han-yuan before the noon rice.'
'I wonder how the children have been getting along!' his second wife said in a worried voice.
'Old Hoong and the steward will have looked after them,' the judge said reassuringly. They talked about household matters till loud shouts outside announced the arrival of the men from the monastery. Tao Gan, one of Judge Dee's lieutenants, poked his long, gloomy face inside and reported that four litters were standing ready for the ladies.
While Judge Dee's three wives and their maids got into the litters, the judge and Tao Gan supervised the lay brothers as they rolled large boulders up against the wheels of the cart. The coachmen unharnessed the horses, and the cortege moved along the winding road, the rain clattering on the canvas roofs of the litters. Judge Dee and Tao Gan trudged along behind them - they were drenched to the skin anyway! In this strong wind it was no use trying to unfold their oil-paper umbrellas.
As they were crossing the natural bridge over the ravine, Tao Gan asked:
'Isn't that the monastery which Your Honour planned to visit some time ago, in order to make inquiries about those three young women, called Liu, Huang and Gao, who died there last year?'
'It is,' the judge replied soberly. 'It's not the kind of place where I would choose to stay overnight together with my womenfolk. But it can't be helped.'
The sure-footed litter-bearers went quickly up a steep flight of slippery steps, zig-zagging up through high trees. Judge Dee followed close behind them but he found it difficult to keep up with their pace. He was glad when, above him, he heard a gate open on creaking hinges. They entered a large, walled-in front courtyard.
The bearers carried the litters up a second flight of steps at the back of the court, and put them down under a high archway of blackened bricks. A group of monks in saffron-coloured robes stood waiting for them there, carrying lampions and smoking torches.
Judge Dee heard the main gate through which they had entered close with a resounding thud. He suddenly shivered. He thought he must have caught a bad cold in the rain. A short, corpulent monk stepped forward and bowed deeply in front of him. He said in a brisk voice:
'Welcome to the Morning Cloud Monastery, Your Honour! I am the Prior here, at Your Honour's service!'
'I hope our sudden visit didn't inconvenience you,' Judge Dee said politely.
'It's a signal honour, sir!' the Prior exclaimed, blinking his slightly protruding eyes. 'It adds splendour to this auspicious day! We are celebrating the foundation of our monastery, as we do every year on this day. This is the two hundred and third time, Your Honour!'
'I didn't know that,' the judge said. 'May your monastery prosper for ever and ever!' A gust of cold wind blew through the archway. He cast an anxious eye at his ladies, who were stepping down from the litters, assisted by the maids, and resumed: Please lead us to our quarters. We all need to change our clothes.'
'Of course, of course!' the small Prior exclaimed. 'Follow me, please!' As he led them into a narrow, dark passage he continued: 'I hope you won't mind the steps. I'll take you to the east wing by a roundabout way. There are many sets of steps, but it'll at least save you from going outside again and getting more wet!'
He went ahead, holding a paper lantern close to the floor so that Judge Dee and Tao Gan could see the steps. A novice followed, carrying a lampion on a long stick, and Judge Dee's wives brought up the rear, together with six lay brothers, who carried their travelling bags and boxes, suspended on bamboo poles over their shoulders. When they had gone up the first flight of stairs and turned a corner, it had grown very still; nothing was heard any more of the storm outside.
'The walls must be very thick!' Judge Dee remarked to Tao Gan.
'They knew how to build in those days! And they didn't grudge expense!' As they began another steep ascent, Tao Gan added: 'But they made far too many stairs!'
After they had climbed two more flights of stairs, the Prior pushed a heavy door open. They entered a long, cold corridor, lighted by a few lanterns hanging from the thick, age-blackened rafters overhead. On their right was a blind plaster-wall, on the left was a row of narrow, high windows. Here they heard again the gale blowing outside.
'We are now on the third floor of the east wing,'the Prior explained. 'The steps on the left there lead down to the hall on the ground floor. If Your Honour listens you can hear faintly the music of the mystery play they are performing there now!'
The judge halted and listened politely. He could vaguely hear the beat of drums coming from far below. It was soon drowned by the rattle of the rain against the shutters. The wind was gaining in force. He was glad they were inside.
'Round the corner ahead there,' the Prior went on in his quick, clipped voice, 'are Your Honor's quarters. I trust you won't find them too uncomfortable. Presently I'll take Your Honor's assistant down to his room on the floor below, where we have a few other guests staying.' He motioned the novice with the lampion to precede them, and they went on.
Judge Dee looked round. His wives and the maids were just emerging at the head of the stairs at the end of the corridor. He followed the Prior.
Suddenly a particularly violent rush of wind blew open the shutters of the window on his left, and a gust of cold rain came inside. With an annoyed exclamation Judge Dee leaned outside and grabbed the swinging shutters to pull them shut. But then he stood stock-still.
The window in the wall of the building opposite stood open; across the dividing space of six feet or so he looked into a dimly-lit room. He saw the broad back of a man wearing a close-fitting iron helmet who was trying to embrace a naked woman. She covered her face with her right arm, where the left should have been there was only a ragged stump. The man let go of her and she stumbled back against the wall. Then the wind tore the hooks of the shutters from Judge Dee's hands, and they slammed shut in his face. With an oath he pushed them open again, but now he saw nothing but a dark curtain of rain.
By the time he had the shutters fastened, Tao Gan and the Prior had stepped up to him and helped him to secure the rusty bolts.
'You should have let me do that, Your Honour!' the Prior said contritely.
The judge remained silent. He waited till the women and the bearers had passed by them, then asked:
'What is that building over on the other side there?'
'Only the store-room, Your Honour,' the Prior replied. 'We had better ...'
'Just now I saw one of the windows there standing open,' Judge Dee interrupted him curtly. 'But someone closed it very quickly'
'Window?' the Prior asked astonished. 'Your Honour must be mistaken! There are no windows on this side of the store-room. There's only a blind wall. This way please!'CHAPTER 3
Silently Judge Dee followed him round the corner. There was a dull pain behind his eyes, evidently he had caught a head cold. Moreover, he had been looking through the grey curtain of the falling rain, and it had been only one brief glance. He felt feverish, it could have been a hallucination. He gave Tao Gan a quick look, but apparently his assistant had seen nothing. He said:
'You had better go and change, Tao Gan! Come back here as soon as you are ready'
The Prior took his leave with many bows. He walked back to the stairs together with Tao Gan.
In the spacious dressing-room his First Lady was giving directions to the maids as to which of their boxes should be opened. His two other wives were supervising the bearers, who were busy filling the bronze brazier with glowing coals. The judge looked on for a while, then walked on to the bedroom beyond.
It was a very large room with only a few pieces of solid, old-fashioned furniture. Although thick draperies were drawn over the windows, he could hear faintly the sounds of the storm outside. A huge bedstead stood against the back wall, heavy curtains of antique brocade hung down from its carved ebony canopy, high up near the raftered ceiling. In the corner he saw a dressing-table of Blackwood, and next to it a small tea-table with four stools. Except for a large bronze brazier there was no other furniture. The floor was covered by a thick, faded brown carpet. The room didn't seem very inviting, but he reflected that when the brazier was burning and all the candles lighted it would probably not be too bad.
He pulled the curtains of the bedstead aside. It provided ample room for himself and his three wives. As a rule he didn't like them all sleeping together. At home each of his wives had her own separate bedroom, and he either passed the night there or invited one to his own bedroom. As a staunch Confucianism he thought that to be the only proper arrangement. He knew that many husbands slept with all their wives together in one bedroom, but Judge Dee thought that a bad habit. It lessened the women's self-respect and did not make for a harmonious household. However, when travelling it couldn't be helped. He went back to the dressing-room, and sneezed several times.
'Here's a nice padded robe for you!' his First Lady said. And, softer: 'Do I give a tip to those lay brothers?'
'Better not,' the judge whispered. 'We'll leave a gift to the monastery when we take our departure tomorrow.' Louder, he added: 'That robe'll do!'
His second wife helped him to change into the dry garments after having warmed them over the brazier.
'Give me my new cap!' Judge Dee said to his First Lady. 'I'll have to go down now and say a few polite things to the Abbot.'
'Come back here quickly, please,' she said. 'We'll make some hot tea, then have our meal here. You had better get to bed early, you are looking pale. I think you have a cold coming on!'
'I'll be up as soon as I can,' Judge Dee promised. 'You are right, I don't feel too well. I must have caught a bad cold.' He tied the black sash round his waist, then his ladies conducted him to the door.
Tao Gan was waiting for the judge in the corridor, together with the novice carrying a lampion. His gaunt assistant had changed into a long gown of faded blue cloth, and he had a small square cap of well-worn black velvet on his head.
'The Abbot is waiting for Your Honour in the reception room downstairs,' the novice said respectfully when they were entering the corridor that led to the staircase. Judge Dee halted in his steps. He said:
'We'll go there presently.'
Excerpted from The Haunted Monastery by Robert van Gulik. Copyright © 1961 Robert van Gulik. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The First Lady Directs the Maids
Judge Dee and Tao Gan in the Store-room
A Poet Taunts a Taoist Abbot
Judge Dee Visits an Exalted Person
Scroll-Painting of the Old Abbot's Cat
Judge Dee and his Helpers Inspect the Crypt
A Young Girl in the Hands of Evil Persons
Judge Dee and his Three Wives
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My personal favorite, this one is #5 in the series. Set in a monastery high atop the mountains in ancient China, Judge Dee and his huge entourage find themselves involved in one of the most eerie cases of his career. The final denouement is one of the most vivid I've read in a mystery.
An all night investigation and departure the next day. Judge is forced to share the big bed with all his wives a practice he does not approve but as he never gets to sleep is o.k. this was a movie but not sure of actors. asian one was the former charlie chans number one son but judge dee american actor under a lot of beard